Medina Spirit Disqualified from 2021 Kentucky Derby, Baffert Suspended

Chris Adams

It’s been nearly a year in the making. However, there is finally a decision in the 2o21 Kentucky Derby saga. Medina Spirit is out and Mandaloun is the champion.

Bob Baffert: Ever-Loaded

Bob Baffert, trainer of Medina Spirit, was issued a 90 day suspension as a result of a drug positive in the 2021 Kentucky Derby
Baffert watches horses during morning workouts at Santa Anita.

Each and every year Bob Baffert seems to hold a major hand in the Kentucky Derby. His unprecedented success with 2 Triple Crown winners in the last decade help ensure that owners lineup at his door to hand over their best 2 year olds. This level of notoriety and prestige was enough for many to overlook his history of drug positives and often questionable excuses.

Baffert’s 2021 Stable: Medina Spirit the Benchwarmer

In 2021 Baffert once again looked to have a transformational talent on his hand. However, that talent wasn’t Medina Spirit. Rather his strongest contender for the Derby appeared to be a horse named Life is Good.

Like Charlatan, Nadal, McKinzie, and a host of other Baffert from year’s gone by, this one would be sidelined with an injury. Like in so many sports, it was next man up for team Baffert. Not, Medina Spirit but a colt named Concert Tour.

After a subpar performance in the final prep, the trainer announced that Concert Tour would not go in the Derby and Medina Spirit would be the top rated charge for the barn in the run for the roses.

Medina Spirit Wins the Kentucky Derby

On the first Saturday in May, Bob Baffert did something he doesn’t often get to do. He won the Kentucky Derby as an underdog. As is typically of his horses Medina Spirit rushed to the front and carried the field all the way around the track. As the horses hit the line, Medina Spirit was able to hold off Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and Essential Quality who finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively.

Breaking News

The victory celebration of the plucky little horse with a ton of heart was quickly squashed by rumors out of morning workouts the very next day. The word was that Medina Spirit had tested positive for betamethasone which was a violation of Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Rules.

The saga that ensued was nearly 10 months of Baffert claiming almost mystical excuses for the overages and legal battles against track management groups. Various tracks around the country took action to try and prevent Baffert from entering runners at their tracks. All of this occurring before the full process could be played out.

Official Ruling: Medina Spirit Disqualified

As Baffert was appearing before the New York stewards, testimony leaked suggesting the process was nearly at the end and that a date had been set for his hearing with Kentucky. In the interim his horses had been banned from earning Derby or Oaks points. After a meeting last week, an official ruling came down on February 21.

Medina Spirit would officially be removed as the 2021 Kentucky Derby champion. The new order of finish would be :

  1. Mandaloun
  2. Hot Rod Charlie
  3. Essential Quality

Along with the disqualification, Baffert was handed a 90 day suspension which will conveniently take him just beyond the running of the Kentucky Derby. This portion of the punishment will be the most punitive for the trainer as it forces the hands of all owners who have Derby hopefuls currently in his barn. Their choices at this point are to stand with Bob and miss the Derby or move their talented colts and fillies to trainers eligible to compete.

The official statement from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission can be found here.

Cox Wins First Derby

With the invalidation of the victory, Brad Cox earns his first ever Kentucky Derby in rather unceremonious fashion. The win caps quite a year for the trainer who won the Pegasus World Cup, Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Classic all in the same calendar year.

Cox will also get third place money as a result of the Essential Quality being elevated to 4th.

No Justice for Players

While the disqualification will result in justice for the horsemen including purse adjustments for the jockeys, owners, and trainers, bettors are not so lucky. Unfortunately, per parimutuel rules, the race was declared official and cannot be changed.

Those who cashed winning tickets will keep their earnings, while those who correctly predicted the legislated outcome have no recourse for reconciling their bets.

Inconsistency in Horse Racing

While several jurisdictions have lashed out at Baffert for bringing such negative publicity to the sport, the reality is that there is no consistency in the game. Despite being banned from earning Kentucky Derby points, his horses have blocked others from 84 Kentucky Derby points as other jurisdictions have not suspended the trainer.

In fact, Baffert is likely to once again win the Santa Anita owners title as he dominates southern California racing.

Even those jurisdictions that have banned Baffert have taken different actions for similar acts which has been at the crux of Baffert’s legal defense throughout much of these proceedings.

Calls for a Governing Body

This issue is just one of many that have pointed out the flaws in the sectional approach to horse racing. For years many have been crying for a unified governing body to apply the laws of horse racing equally across all jurisdictions.

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